Since Monday there has been a flurry of proposals filed to SB 7086 – the bill impacting Amendment 4 – which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in November.
Some amendments seek to make a judge’s conversion of a financial obligation into a civil judgment complete the criminal sentence. Other amendments pick some of the more onerous elements of HB 7089, the House version of the bill.
HB 7089, as it stands today, would ensure that someone without the means to pay back all of their financial obligations will endure a lifetime ban on voting. This would harm all returning citizens who have prior felony convictions and have completed all but the financial obligations of their sentences.
Given the harsh history of Florida’s racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, imposing legislation that punishes those with less economic might will continue the old Jim Crow practice of placing governmental roadblocks that limit their access to the ballot.
This legislative action will not survive the strict scrutiny that legislation disparately harming African-Americans requires.
We contend that it is not only morally wrong, but an affront to the 5 million Floridians who voted for Amendment 4 and a direct attack on the Florida Constitution to disenfranchise an entire class of people who have completed the terms of their criminal sentences but are unable to pay off financial obligations that have been converted to civil judgments by a court.
The Governor, Division of Elections, and all members of the Florida Legislature are responsible for making sure that these discriminating actions never become law and the the will of Floridians is carried out.
While SB 7086 – as it stands prior to amendments filed Monday – states certain civil financial obligations (fees and fines converted to civil liens) do not preclude an individual from voting, we contend that legislation could be even closer to the intent of Amendment 4. This can be achieved by stating that a judge’s conversion of restitution into a civil lien or judgment ends a sentence after the terms of confinement are over.
Review of the totality of Senator Jeff Brandes’ amendments filed Monday indicates an about face on respecting a judge’s authority to modify an original sentence and convert it to a civil judgment. Senator Brandes is negating his prior stance and saying that a civil conversion has no impact on the completion of a sentence.
In addition, the proposal to alter the voter registration application to have anyone convicted of a felony self-identify themselves as such is also concerning – that is a change from the current form that will have a chilling impact on new registrations.
We request all legislators ensure that legislation align with the intent and expectation that 1.4 million people be allowed to vote after completion of their incarceration, parole, probation, and to allow a judge’s conversion of financial obligations into civil judgments be considered completion of the criminal sentence. This would allow a returning citizen to rejoin society, vote, and still protect the interests of the injured party, who may seek enforcement of the civil judgment.